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Russia Tightens Its Grip on the Net

Critics of a bill in the Russian parliament say it clears the way for a more elaborate censorship system.
July 12, 2012

Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Wednesday that critics say represents a big step toward the installation of a Chinese-style Internet censorship apparatus.

The bill, pitched by its proponents as a necessary measure to protect children from “information harmful to their health and environment,” would create “an official roster of websites containing forbidden information, including child pornography, ‘propaganda of drug use,’ information that ‘may cause children to undertake actions threatening their life or health,’ or ‘any other information banned by court decisions,’” according to Bloomberg. It’s expected to pass the upper house and be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

The language of the legislation has drawn comparisons to the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), which was shelved in January by its sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives after widespread and well-organized backlash by citizens and technology companies including Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The major criticism of the Russian bill sounds a lot like that of SOPA: ambiguous definitions of what constitutes illegal content could be used to justify oppressive limits to expression. “The goal of the bill is to wipe out dissent in our country,” one Russian legislator exclaimed during the bill’s hearing, according to the AFP news service.

Earlier this week the Russian version of Wikipedia led an online protest of the bill by blacking out its website for an entire day, just like its English-language counterpart did during fight over SOPA.

Russia’s online scene is vibrant and diverse, and, at least until now, has been relatively open to many kinds of expression. Services like blogging network LiveJournal, which is immensely popular in Russia, have become platforms for outspoken dissent. LiveJournal expressed doubt that the new law would be enforced fairly, since a banned website’s only outlet for appeal would be the Russian court system, known to be loyal to the Kremlin. “Unfortunately the practice of law in Russia indicates a high probability of the worst case scenario.”

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